Berkshire Museum’s Sale of Blockbuster Works Prompts Backlash—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

Catch up on the latest art news with the our rundown of the 10 stories you need to know this week.

01  Massachusetts’s Berkshire Museum will auction 40 artworks to bolster its endowment and pay for renovations, potentially violating industry guidelines, which generally prohibit art sales for operating costs.

(via the Berkshire Eagle and the New York Times)

Known as deaccessioning, the sale of works from an institutional collection is broadly banned by the industry guidelines crafted by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). The only exception is if the sale is intended to fund the purchase of other artworks. Selling work to fund operating and endowment expenses can result in sanctions, with other institutions refusing to loan work to the offending museum. Though they have expressed opposition, the AAM and AMMD have not announced if such a fate will befall the Berkshire Museum, which is auctioning works by Alexander Calder and Norman Rockwell, among others, to raise money for $20 million in renovation and $40 million in additional endowment funds. The sale has already resulted in criticism from other institutions, with the director of the Norman Rockwell Museum writing an op-ed calling for the Berkshire Museum to reconsider its sale.


02  The legal fight over a Paul Klee masterpiece looted by Nazis has been settled after 26 years of contentious litigation.

(via the New York Times)

Under the agreement, the German museum that now holds Klee’s Swamp Legend (1919) will keep the painting but pay the heirs of its original owner, art historian Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers, its fair-market value, estimated at €2–4 million. Lissitzky-Küppers left the painting on loan to the Hanover Provinzial Museum when she emigrated to the Soviet Union in 1926. It was later seized as one of over 20,000 works confiscated from German museums in the crusade against “degenerate art.” During and after World War II, Swamp Legend wound its way through the hands of several owners before landing in Munich’s Lenbachhaus museum, where it is on display today. Following the end of the war,  Lissitzky-Küppers unsuccessfully attempted to reclaim her collection. Her descendants, however, have been trying to recover the Klee from the German government since 1992. The settlement, which requires the painting's Nazi history be detailed when the piece is exhibited, concludes one of several cases seeking the return of art looted by the Nazis. Still, many others, including another ongoing lawsuit against Germany over a looted Wassily Kandinsky work, remain unresolved.


03  A Dana Schutz exhibition at Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston is prompting controversy, with protesters sending an open letter to the institution in opposition to the show.

(via the New York Times)

The 18-week exhibition of Schutz’s recent work opened at the museum on Wednesday. On Tuesday, protesters sent an open letter to curator Eva Respini and her team expressing concerns and criticisms of the exhibit. The letter follows months after Schutz’s depiction of Emmett Till in her work Open Casket (2016) caused protests and debates around representation and white privilege when it was exhibited at the Whitney Biennial in March. While that piece is not on display at the ICA, the six-page open letter urges the museum to consider the “moral gravitas of reckless cultural sensibilities of artists in their charge and not waver due to the weight of their bottom lines.” The letter lists four demands, including the appearance of Schutz as part of a public Q&A and increased explanation and acknowledgement of the Open Casket controversy. In response, ICA director Jill Medvedow noted that “art often exposes the fault lines in our culture, and ‘Open Casket’ raised difficult questions about cultural appropriation, race, and representation.” She pinpointed museums as a place where the artist’s voice is integral to dialogue and has organized programs related to the exhibition, but Schutz will not be present. Writers of the letter spoke with the ICA staff last week, but reportedly left with “many questions unanswered and with a promise from the ICA to continue this dialogue.”


04  Former Met director Philippe de Montebello is joining Acquavella Galleries.

(via the New York Times)

The move, announced Wednesday, is effective immediately. As a director at Acquavella, de Montebello will curate special exhibitions and develop publications for the Upper East Side gallery. De Montebello previously helmed the Metropolitan Museum of Art, stepping down in 2008 to end his widely heralded, 31-year tenure. “I think it’s one of the great art galleries,” de Montebello said of Acquavella. To the extent it ever existed, the line between commercial and institutional interests in the art world has become increasingly blurred in recent months. In July of last year, Eric Shiner left a directorship at the Andy Warhol Museum to join Sotheby’s as a senior vice president in its fine art division.


05  Six members of the administration of deposed South Korean president Park Geun-hye have been sent to jail for blacklisting thousands of artists for their political beliefs.

(via Artforum)

The discovery of government blacklist in December of 2016 caused public uproar that contributed to the ex-president’s impeachment, removal from office, and arrest in March. Names of those blacklisted have not yet been released, however officials estimate that at least 10,000 people were denied access to government-funded programs for their criticism of Park. The news has spurred hundreds of lawsuits by South Korean artists against Park and her aides, in addition to a call for new protective legislation for politically based discrimination. Park’s former chief of staff, Kim Ki-choon, has been sentenced to three years for ordering staff to create and subsequently lie about the blacklist. Previous culture ministers Kim Jong-deok and Cho Yoon-sun respectively received a two-year sentence and a recently suspended sentence for a conviction of perjury before the National Assembly. Park herself faces a variety of criminal charges that include accepting bribery and collusion in political oppression of dissidents.


06  Sotheby’s stock reached its highest price this week since the company went public in 1988.

(via Bloomberg)

Shares of Sotheby’s have climbed 45% this year, closing out Tuesday at above $57 before falling slightly to start trading on Friday at $56.61. The share price is a vote of confidence in the leadership of CEO Tad Smith, who was hired in March to help steady the company, and the product of a share buyback effort. David Schick, lead retail analyst at Consumer Edge Research LLC, told Bloomberg that a weaker U.S. dollar and the strength of the high end of the art market are also driving the stock upwards. Sotheby’s “has gone from more old-fashioned to modern, including more information flow between business units and more rapid digital-media work,” Schick said. The 273-year-old auction house will release its second-quarter earnings on Wednesday.


07  Rock star Alice Cooper has discovered a classic Warhol silkscreen that sat rolled up in a storage locker for 40 years.

(via The Guardian)

Andy Warhol’s unsigned piece from the Death and Disaster series depicts a red Little Electric Chair. The work is based on a press photograph of the death chamber at Sing Sing prison where Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for conspiracy in 1953. Cooper’s silkscreen reportedly disappeared into his touring equipment where it remained until four years ago, when Cooper’s manager, Shep Gordon, heard about how much a similar piece went for at auction. A green version of the work from 1964 sold for $11.6 million at Christie’s in 2015. However, without a signature or authentication, Cooper’s Warhol may not be worth that much if sold. The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts stopped authenticating work after a 2011 legal dispute. But Richard Polsky, a Warhol expert, said it was valid, dating the diminutive 22 x 28 inch canvas to 1964 or 1965. According to Polsky, at the time the unsettling image of the chair was “not an easy sell,” but a half-century on, that could prove otherwise.


08  The search for the Colosseum’s next director will include foreign candidates after a national tribunal in Italy tossed out an earlier regional ruling.

(via the Washington Post)

A previous court decision had blocked the hiring of non-Italian directors to run several of the country’s most significant museums and archaeological sites. On Monday, Italy’s Council of State overturned this ruling—a decision celebrated by culture minister Dario Franceschini, who is currently interviewing candidates for the directorship. (Of the 82 current applicants, 16 come from outside Italy, he said.) Franceschini’s plan to hire foreign specialists to run Italian institutions is part of a wider initiative to revitalize the country’s ailing museum system. It has faced continuous resistance, however. Monday’s decision is the second this summer to dismiss rulings by the same regional body, which had previously fired five newly-hired museum directors in May.


09  Microsoft quickly canceled plans to scrap Microsoft Paint after an outpouring of fan support.

(via the Washington Post)  

On Monday, the company announced that it would no longer update and soon phase out Microsoft Paint as part of its fall operating system update. Fans of Paint, which launched in 1985 on the original iteration of the Windows OS, responded in something of a digital revolt. Along with a peppering of nostalgic tweets, the hashtag #RIPMSPaint trended on Twitter Monday. While other Microsoft software programs, like Outlook Express and the Reader app, will also be integrated into new browsers or simply be cut, none garnered a comparable level of protest. In response to the internet outcry, the Microsoft has reportedly decided to keep Paint as an app in the Windows store alongside a new image editing application, MS Paint 3D, which offers photo editing and 2D creation in addition to new three-dimensional creation capabilities.


10  Banksy’s Girl with Balloon (2002) has been crowned the U.K.’s favorite artwork.

(via The Guardian)

Beating out a long-time favorite, John Constable’s The Hay Wain (1821), Banksy’s stencil was selected in a poll that asked respondents to choose their five favorite work from a shortlist picked by art writers. The piece by the anonymous graffiti artist originally appeared on a bridge in the South Bank of London. It also appeared in the East End, where it prompted outrage when the building owner proposed removing and selling it. A cardboard cutout of the piece sold in 2012 for £73,000. Following Banksy and Constable, the poll found that the country’s favorite works are Jack Vettriano’s The Singing Butler (1992), JMW Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire (1839), and Antony Gormley’s The Angel of the North (1998). Only two of the top twenty artists are female: Bridget Riley and Maggi Hambling. The survey was commissioned by Samsung to appear on a TV that shows a work of art when turned off.


—Artsy Editors

Cover image via Wikimedia Commons.